August 02, 2006

BWI Accident Sparks Awareness

The scene is familiar on the East End summer canvas: A bevy of boozed-up boaters speeding by, toasting one another with beer and bravado as they take the party behind the wheel of their vessels and head off into the sunset — and sometimes, tragedy.

Such was the case at 11:42 p.m. on Saturday when police responded to a call about a boat operated by Adam Berghenty of Farmington, Connecticut that crashed into the Greenport breakwater. The collision caused an accident that left everyone onboard injured, including three other Connecticut residents and one Florida resident. Berghenty was charged with boating while intoxicated, a misdemeanor.

Three of the injured were transported to the Eastern Long Island Hospital dock by a Southold Town Police boat, while the remaining injured were transported into Klipp Park by another police vessel, and treated at the scene by members of the Greenport Fire Department Rescue Squad. Two of the injured were subsequently taken to University Hospital in Stony Brook, while the others received medical attention at Eastern Long Island Hospital.

The accident, said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, "speaks volumes on the need for more enforcement of our BWI laws."

The supervisor said the Town of Southold needs "better law enforcement on the waters overall. With just two bay constables, we do not have a sufficient presence on the water and need to add to those numbers."

But, said area law enforcement officials, the BWI sheds light on a subject their agencies are actively seeking to illuminate through education. Southold Town Police Captain Martin Flatley said a number of initiatives this summer have been geared toward preventing BWI accidents across the East End.

According to Flatley, the town has teamed up with Southampton Town, the Coast Guard, various Suffolk County marine units and the Department of Environmental Conservation in order to combine efforts with the goal of raising awareness about boating safety.

Southampton Town Bay Constable Ted Sadleir said a joint effort, staged in July, involved both towns and the DEC stopping boats on both the north and south sides of Robin's Island and checking for safety violations as well as cases of BWI. No BWI arrests were reported, although a number of offenders received tickets for various violations.

Sadleir said boaters out on the bay this year should be aware there's a whole new ball game at play: The legal limits, according to New York State navigational law, have been lowered to .08 from .10. Now, said Sadleir, "it's the same as DWI. People who thought they were a little tipsy before might now be officially drunk."

The bottom line, though, said Sadleir, remains the same: "If you were drinking, you shouldn't be operating a boat."

Other successful initiatives, said Flatley and Sadleir, are Suffolk Aggressive Vessel Enforcement (SAVE), held at least one weekend during the summer. Sadleir added that additional combined efforts from the Suffolk County Marine Bureau, Connecticut, and Nassau County are planned for the future: "We'll be doing random evening patrols with multi-agency task forces throughout the summer. Hopefully, we'll catch some of these people and take them off the water," said Sadleir.

Last weekend's incident was the second BWI to darken Greenport waters. In 2003, village resident Heather Sourenian lost her life after a vessel operated by James McCarthy crashed into the same jetty; McCarthy was charged with BWI.

Flatley said the STPD has taken a twofold approach to tackling BWI: In addition to marine enforcement, officers on land patrol areas and establishments heavily attended by boaters.

Flatley said it was fortunate boat police vessels were out on the water Saturday night — Bay constable Donald Dzenkowski and other officers were on the water for a private fireworks display off Robin's Island — and were able to respond immediately. "It's fortunate no one was killed — there were some pretty banged-up people on that boat."

Both Russell and Flatley said the town's new marine vessel was an integral component in the successful rescue; Russell added the accident served as "a shining example of the fire and rescue excellence" shown by local departments.

Joan Sourenian, who will mark three years this month since the tragic BWI accident stole her only daughter, said the new accident brings the need for boating safety sharply into focus: "People think they can get into a boat and take off without knowing the rules of the road."

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